Paul Scotti (@pscotti)
Activity by Paul Scotti
If you’re diagnosed with a serious illness, it can be easy to get down and wonder why this is happening to you and how will it affect your future goals and dreams. For 57-year-old Jim McGarry of Fruit Cove, Florida, a diagnosis of end-stage renal disease that has required him to go on dialysis three days a week while he awaits a donor kidney hasn’t gotten him down. If anything, it’s given him the motivation to push himself to set and achieve new life goals.
“Finding out I had kidney disease in 2012, after being diagnosed with type 2 diabetes 10 years earlier, was a wake-up call for me about how I was living my life,” says Jim. “I used to travel a lot, didn’t eat right, and didn’t get enough exercise, but that all changed once I realized I needed to deal with my health issues. Then I started to make some much-needed changes to regain my health and re-evaluate the priorities in my life.”
He’s a former Green Beret who served in Somalia. He’s a record-holding skydiver with several thousand jumps under his belt since he began leaping out of airplanes at age 18. And he’s a liver transplant recipient, who affectionately refers to his transplanted organ as “Sam.”
Kim Dobson, 63, of Oveido, Florida, is the definition of someone who lives life to the fullest. He not only participates in national and international skydiving competitions, but also scuba dives, plays golf, and enjoys shooting sports. With both a sports and military background, he was active, fit and the picture of health. But that all changed in 1994, after knee surgery and after undergoing a series of tests for back pain. Told he had elevated liver enzymes, Kim was eventually diagnosed with type 3 hepatitis C. Surprised but confident he could beat his disease and resume his active lifestyle, he went through three cycles/47 weeks of interferon treatments at a hospital in Birmingham, Alabama.
When 53-year-old Donald Jones of Ponte Vedra, Florida, found out he had lung cancer, the former smoker accepted it as a challenge that he was prepared to fight and win. Little did he know the other serious health issues that lay ahead, which would create serious new challenges for him over the next year.
An avid golfer and hiker, Donald could tell something wasn’t right with his breathing after a hiking trip to the Smoky Mountains in 2013. A visit to his physician resulted in tests that showed a spot on his lung. It was cancer. He called Mayo Clinic for an appointment with a pulmonologist. There, he was told he’d need surgery to remove the lung tumor. For about three months after the surgery, everything seemed fine, and he was fortunate not to require additional radiation or chemotherapy to prevent recurrence of his cancer.
What came next began a series of medical events that would threaten even the most optimistic patient’s resolve. [...]
For most organ transplant recipients, receiving the “gift of life” is a one-time experience. But for Nellie Betancourt, battling the hepatitis C virus that had been in hiding in her body for years required another “second chance at life,” thanks to a second generous donor and a new generation of anti-viral drugs.
Betancourt, a 56-year-old mother of two and grandmother of seven from Puerto Rico, was first diagnosed with elevated liver enzymes during a routine exam in 1995. Further testing revealed a positive result for the hepatitis C virus, which resulted in several rounds of standard anti-viral drug treatments over the next several years, none of which were successful in effectively managing her disease. This began a 20-year battle with hepatitis C that was to eventually include two liver transplants performed at Mayo Clinic’s Florida campus.
“By 2002, I was told that my liver enzymes were rapidly increasing, and that I’d eventually need a liver transplant or face liver failure,” says Betancourt. “I was only 42 years old at the time.” [...]
When 69-year-old allergist and rheumatologist Mike Mass. M.D., was diagnosed with multiple myeloma in August 2013, he quickly realized that being the patient and trusting the advice of a fellow physician with expertise in a disease outside of his realm of expertise would be a challenge.
“I’ve always advocated open communications with my patients about their treatment options, as it’s important for the physician and patient to be on the same page,” says Dr. Mass. “Although I’m not a cancer expert, I know enough about the disease to ask lots of questions of my own oncologist on the best treatment options available. It was hard balancing the need to express my opinions without impeding my physician’s own expert medical judgment.”
Dr. Mass was in private practice in the Jacksonville, Florida, area for more than 30 years before going part-time and joining an allergy group practice in 2008. That’s where he worked until his diagnosis in 2013, when he finally decided to retire from practicing medicine. He had known he was at a greater risk for contracting multiple myeloma for many years because of a condition called monoclonal gammopathy of undetermined significance , or MGUS, which he was diagnosed with decades ago. MGUS is a condition in which an abnormal protein (M protein) is found in the blood. That increases the risk of developing multiple myeloma at some point in the patient’s life. Dr. Mass had no symptoms but found out several years ago after some blood work that his M protein levels were at the point where he now had “smoldering myeloma,” an early phase of this cancer condition. [...]
When a doctor suddenly becomes the patient with a life-threatening illness, Mayo Clinic’s commitment to high-quality medical care that puts the needs of the patient first takes on fresh perspective, especially as it relates to the principle of compassionate care, which is a hallmark of Mayo Clinic.
Such was the case when Joseph J. Tepas III, M.D., a 68-year-old pediatric surgeon in Jacksonville, Florida, learned that the wheezing and shortness of breath he was experiencing turned out to be idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis, a potentially life-threatening disease that occurs from unexplained scarring of the lung tissue.
In addition to doing pediatric surgery, Dr. Tepas is a practicing trauma surgeon and surgical intensivist. He is the medical director of the region’s only pediatric trauma unit, and, as a retired captain in the Navy Reserve, appreciates the critical importance of maintaining a personal commitment to health and fitness. Dr. Tepas had always lived a healthy lifestyle and, other than some occasional allergy symptoms, never had any significant health issues. But lying dormant in his otherwise healthy body was a disease that was quietly scarring and shutting his lungs down.
Some people who overcome a life-threatening illness feel motivated to give something back to those who helped make their recovery possible. Charlie Willwerth, a 61-year-old leukemia survivor and bone marrow transplant recipient from St. Augustine, Florida, is taking steps to help bring life-saving stems cells to others in need of a bone marrow transplant.
Two years out from his bone marrow transplant, and with his leukemia in remission, Charlie recently completed courier training with Be The Match, the world’s largest bone marrow registry, to become a volunteer stem cell courier. His new “job” -- transporting life-saving stem cells from a donor’s location to a matching recipient -- can take him anywhere in the world.
“This is the most direct way I can help others who have helped me get a second chance at life,” says Charlie. “If it wasn’t for my donor, I might not be here today to have the opportunity to help others with needs similar to mine.” [...]
Being diagnosed with multiple myeloma, a serious blood cancer, is difficult enough to accept. But being told that you also have a rare hematologic condition called amyloidosis — a disorder that could prevent you from receiving the bone marrow transplant necessary to combat your myeloma — could put anyone’s strength to the test.
Such was the case for 67-year-old Kendall Schwindt of Sun City, Florida, a retiree who spent 26 years with Walmart and who has remained active playing golf and riding his motorcycle. After experiencing a sudden illness in March 2013 while visiting his son, Schwindt knew something wasn’t right. After visiting his family doctor, he was told he had a very high creatinine level in his blood and was sent to a local nephrologist for a kidney biopsy.
His diagnosis — multiple myeloma, a cancer of the plasma cells, a type of white blood cell present in bone marrow. Plasma cells normally make proteins called antibodies to help the body fight infections. But that wasn’t only devastating news Schwindt would receive. [...]